Johannesburg - Following the closure of Royal Bafokeng’s Rasimone south shaft in Rustenburg, North West, a week ago, the department of mineral resources subsequently reopened it after the company made presentations on Wednesday – only to raid another of its mines and shut that one down later this week.
After Royal Bafokeng approached the department on Wednesday afternoon, the section 54 notice for the closure of parts of Rasimone’s south shaft was lifted.
However, less than 24 hours later, the department sent in a team of 15 inspectors and raided the company’s north shaft. This time, it issued a section 54 notice for the closure of the entire shaft.
A section 54 work stoppage refers to section 54 of the Mine Health and Safety Act. It allows a government mine safety inspector to halt work at a mine, either completely or in part, if the inspector has concerns about safety at the operation.
According to the notice, which City Press has seen, the department claims to have found a list of safety hazards at the mine.
A highly placed source privy to the matter said department inspectors upped the ante on Royal Bafokeng and went as far as threatening staff who were suspected to have leaked the information.
The department initially shut down the south shaft after Royal Bafokeng terminated its contract with a Gupta-linked company, Aforika Borwa Mining Solutions (ABMS).
The department subsequently denied that Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane had sent a team of inspectors there in a tit-for-tat move over the termination notice served on ABMS.
The department further accused this newspaper of casting Zwane in a negative light and projecting him as being beholden to certain individuals. It also accused City Press of not including the views of union stakeholders.
National Union of Mineworkers spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu said although the union wanted the safety of workers to be prioritised, the recent sections 54 issued against Royal Bafokeng – with no visits paid to other mines that had recorded fatalities – raised suspicion.
“We are worried about the way this has been conducted because it seems that where there are fatalities, the department does not go. We lost two members in Kopanang [Kopanang mine in Orkney, owned by AngloGold Ashanti] because of fatalities and they never visit where there are fatalities. It seems that since Royal Bafokeng terminated the contract of ABMS, the department is always there.
“We are not saying Royal Bafokeng is right, but mines with fatalities should be visited,” Mammburu said, adding that Royal Bafokeng had indicated a willingness to take over the employ of ABMS workers.
Mpueleng Pooe, Royal Bafokeng’s executive for corporate affairs, confirmed that a second section 54 was issued to the company in as many weeks, but opted not to disclose the reasons for this. However, Pooe said the last fatality the company had was in May 2016.
He said he was not at liberty to discuss the company’s alleged willingness to take on employees of ABMS.
Fidel Hadebe, spokesperson for the mineral resources department, said the first section 54 was lifted following proof of compliance by Royal Bafokeng.
“We are not in a position at this stage to provide you with information on which of the mines has recorded the highest number of fatalities this year, save to say inspectors have made several visits to the mine concerned as part of working with it to reduce these fatalities.
“This is done in the spirit of working together with the mines in addressing health and safety issues. Minister Zwane has always stated his position of engagement instead of confrontation in managing this important sector of our economy. Where inspectors are sent to any mine, it is done with the sole purpose of assisting the mine to comply, avert accidents and deaths, and advance the interests of mining in our country.”
Hadebe said the department had sent inspectors to Kopanang earlier this week “to ensure a speedy recovery of two deceased and trapped mine workers and to immediately initiate an investigation into the cause of the accident, which led to the death of the two workers”. He also confirmed the section 54 notice on the north shaft.
SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE UPDATE: Get Fin24's top morning business news and opinions in your inbox.